September 2, 2018 at 6:00 am EDT | by Laura Rodríguez Fuentes
Same-sex marriage in Cuba: A bone of contention

The Catholic Church is campaigning against same-sex marriage, though more discretely. Siervas de Jesús in Santa Clara, Cuba, has a mural that highlights opposition to equal marriage. (Photo by Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez Martínez/Tremenda Nota)

Editor’s note: Tremenda Nota is an independent e-zine in Cuba that covers the country’s LGBTI community and other minority groups. Tremenda Nota is a media partner of the Washington Blade.

This article was originally published on Tremenda Nota’s website in Spanish.

SANTA CLARA, Cuba — A few weeks before the proposed changes to the concept of marriage were shared it was already a hot topic on the street and social networks.

While five Christian denominations have campaigned in favor of the “original design for the family, just as God created it,” the LGBTI+ population, along with many activists, artists and the general population, have defended the original Cuban design for the family, however it is made up.

Mariela Castro Espín, director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education, told Parliament that “marriage is the possibility to guarantee other opportunities and rights that have been denied to people because of their sexual orientation.”

However, modifying the concept of marriage has caused more of a stir on the streets than in parliament itself. In squares, at get-togethers and even in churches, people are approving or condemning Article 68, which approves “the union voluntarily agreed upon, between two people with legal ability to do so, for the purpose of making a life together.”

Jovann Silva Delgado, a Cuban lawyer living in the United States, believes that the article’s text “leaves no room for doubt regarding the legislator’s intention to open up the possibility that two people of the same sex can marry.”

Nonetheless, Silva Delgado is concerned that Cubans are only discussing Article 68, and when it is put to a referendum they will forget other foundations that are essential for exercising democracy.

A few weeks ago, María Jorge López, coordinator of the lesbian group Labrys in Santa Clara, called on El Mejunje’s (a cultural space and mecca for marginalized people) public to vote in favor of the new constitution. María is a Cuban Communist Party militant and agrees with the draft constitution, which is currently under public consultation.

Since the public debates started on Aug. 13, the national news channel has only broadcast opinions against equal marriage. So far, any debate on the rest of the constitution has been limited to minor additions and, above all, approval. No one is questioning the strict guidelines laid down in the draft document governing the Cuban Communist Party. The irrevocable character of the social, economic and political systems in the country seem to be untouchable issues.

Who is more original?

Last May the Cuban Evangelical League, the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, the Baptist Convention of Eastern Cuba, as well as the Cuban Methodist Church and the Evangelical Assembly of God Church announced that they were in favor of the “original design for the family.” They have held several fasts and protests to express their disapproval of the possible change to the supreme law.  

Meanwhile activists campaigned, mainly on social media, to support the change in the new constitution. They substituted the churches’ poster with one defending the “Cuban design” of a “very original family,” that is not limited to the Father + Mother + Baby formula.

Activists and LGBTI+ people have demanded the right to equal marriage in Cuba for years. (Photo by Yariel Valdés González/Tremenda Nota)

When questioned, Yoan Pérez de Ordaz, a youth leader at Santa Clara Trinity Baptist Church, defended his position with the opinion that, “the country’s future should be for everyone.”

“Basically, the evangelists’ position is that same-sex marriage legislation should not exist. However, I believe that the letter [from the five Christian denominations] that is circulating does not open dialogue,” says the devout Christian.

Pérez de Ordaz understands, however, that the system has historically discriminated against Christians and homosexuals. Some “went to the UMAP [agricultural labor camps] together, but at the moment the law is only favoring some. Our worldview won’t be reflected by the constitution or in the Family Code. Therefore, the document won’t be inclusive: it excludes me and many others.”

While several churches oppose changing the concept of marriage, in Havana several activists have organized public interventions and photography sessions of symbolic weddings in front of Revolution Square and other emblematic spots in the capital.

Many of El Mejunje’s public believe that marriage should not be considered the end goal.
Blancuchini, a famous transformista from Santa Clara, believes that LGBTI+ people also need respect from the police and that trans people should be allowed to wear feminine clothing at places of work or education.

“Everyone wants to get married here, one day I’ll meet my other half,” says Zuleika, another trans girl in Santa Clara, who also wants something more: “a law that allows me to put my name on an identity card.” Others, like Javier Lorenzo Olivera, a transformista from Santa Clara, hope that lesbian and gay couples will be allowed to adopt soon.

LGBTI+ people are also demanding that their right to inherit, among others, is recognized. Francisco Águila Medina, a retired philosophy professor, observes that the potential change in the law “will bring down the barriers for going to a hotel or a cabaret where you have to enter as a couple. I think even school and university curricula will change.”

Visual artist and designer Roberto Ramos Mori from Havana represents another group of activists who recognize the importance of same-sex marriage but doubt its ability to achieve real change. “I’m not against marriage. I’m against the institution of marriage that regulates the way that you build your family and that marriage is what gives you social guarantees. The state should guarantee the full development of human sexuality, without caring about people’s living arrangements,” Ramos Mori told Tremenda Nota.

Despite the different opinions, the majority of the LGBTI+ population thinks that the Constitution is the only way that they can be recognized and respected by society for the first time. Ramos Mori believes: “When we can be a part of it and really participate, irrespective of my sexual orientation or gender identity, I will be able to consider other rights.”

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